The coronavirus lockdown destroyed my social life. I am fortunate to have my wife who keeps me company. Others may not be so lucky with no one by their side to share the burden of distress. With more than a fifth of the world’s population under lockdown, it is only a matter of time until we see signs of the impact these protective measures are having on the mental health of people, in particular. especially those suffering from depression or the like.
So what does a millennial do in the 21st century when they are worried about anything? He goes online, hoping to find a perfect digital cure. In my case, I have Google searched for “online party during a pandemic” – I don’t agree with the most conservative way of phrasing my academic research question.
The first search result is a Metro article, headline: “I went to an online sex party during the coronavirus pandemic”. This is not what I was looking for. The second web link is for Zoom Parties. The concept is simple. People use Zoom conferencing software and combine it with anything like virtual happy hours, coffee breaks, afternoon sessions, dance practices, yoga sessions – according to the Zoom blog Zoom Parties. Then I wonder why they forgot to mention Zoom socially responsible sex parties or Zoom fetish nights, which I read about earlier.
By now, most office workers should have heard of Zoom. Either because you are using it to chat with colleagues, or because you have read the Prime Minister’s missteps. Boris Johnson raised security concerns when he tweeted a photo of a virtual cabinet meeting next to his meeting ID number. In the past, Zoom struggled with security holes. The vulnerability allowed attackers to remove participants from meetings or spoof user messages or hijack shared screens. The company promised that the vulnerabilities were fixed. Reading about cybersecurity issues killed the mood for me and Zoom Parties suddenly became less interesting.
The following search result looked more promising. A party on Netflix. My wife and I have spent hours watching nerdy 90s American sitcoms, why don’t we share the fun with our closest friends? She quickly reminded me why. But maybe with other movies we agreed to give it a go and share the experience with friends. Next thing I knew, I was signed up for three different Netflix Party dates in the next few days.
Netflix Party is like a VHS slumber party in the 90s, except without the constant verbal interruption from your best friend who couldn’t shut up during the most important scenes. Technically speaking, Netflix Party is a Google Chrome extension that lets you watch Netflix remotely with friends – or as a Netflix ad puts it: “movie nights with someone special from long distance” – as it is. cheesy. It promises synchronized video playback and group chat.
The first video date was with New York-based friends, an intimate group of family and friends. They have already tried it. There were a number of couples with young children. It should have been a bright red warning sign. Films to watch: ‘The Incredibles 2’. If you don’t know, it’s probably not for you (assuming you don’t have kids).
Netflix Party lets you chat while watching. Before entering “the party”, you choose an alter ego icon. There is a batman emoji, pizza icon, or cookie icon. I don’t understand how to represent a pizza, but still. The point is, the choice is limited. This makes some people choose the same profile emoji. It can be irritating. You have to remember who is who. It’s annoying if someone chooses the same icon as Dave or John. As mentioned, there were children in the background. My wife and I carefully went through the text messages we sent through the chat window. We couldn’t just joke about anything – although the movie gave an alluring boost to adult jokes. In a circle with babies and grandparents, of course, much of the discussion revolved around baby’s business: diapers and sometimes parental responsibility. Since we don’t have kids yet, it wasn’t really exciting. The comeback here: Choose your Netflix Party groups wisely.
But hey, at least it worked. This is something I cannot say for the next date. With another circle of friends in London, we tried to air “The Fugitive” with Harrison Ford, an action packed film from the early 90s. Before the kickoff the nightmare began. We couldn’t make the technology work. Many of our friends have large LCD screens hanging on their walls. But Netflix Party loves laptops. The irony: most of these friends are tech-savvy people who work in tech start-ups. After trying to no avail, we ended up syncing Netflix manually – communicating to each other, “Guys, we all hit play at 8:50 pm OK !!! “. It defeats the purpose. Some people slightly ahead in the movie spoiled some scenes.
It took two mediocre experiences to finally work like a charm. We hosted it ourselves, picked a fun adult movie from the 80s, and only invited my wife’s sister and her hilarious San Francisco-based boyfriend. It meant they had to watch ‘The naked gun‘in the middle of the day because they are eight hours behind UK time. But since every day feels like a Sunday during Covid-19, they accepted.
The funny and short comments throughout the movie really uplifted the experience. Here, etiquette is vital. Don’t send long or thought-provoking messages. If they’re too long, they can distract from the hilarious scenes, although some scenes from the The naked gun has certainly not aged well.
The main thing is this. On the other side of the world, Netflix Party has brought us closer together. The fact that Netflix parties have a certain date and time adds to the experience. Containment has introduced a lot of confusion into our lives. Having a time to stick to helps introduce structure and supports us mentally. Texting itself can also help with mental health. A 2017 article found evidence that receiving short text messages can benefit a patient’s mental and physical well-being. I doubt the researcher has the concept of a Netflix party in mind, but still. The point is, social interactions can uplift the mind.
From a cybersecurity perspective, I wonder if this is safe? I contacted an expert. Matt Walmsley of Vectra, a cybersecurity company, says he checked out Netflix Party after his 14-year-old daughter tried to organize one with a friend. Despite the teenager’s appalling experience, Matt points out that Netflix Party’s Chrome plug-in was open source until it was kept in private. This means that it made the code more transparent. While it’s not always clear who contributed the codebase, there is a common element of oversight that could help prevent malicious code. On the contrary, Chrome plugins have been used by attackers to infect users’ systems with malware in the past. One tip from Matt is not to use your corporate laptops to host Netflix parties. I took note of it mentally. A VPN usually helps too. Not so much with an encrypted IP address, but to watch the same movies with friends from other countries.
Whether and which virtual parties work best for you, you have to decide for yourself. I had to get used to Netflix Party and its label. It took a few tries to get a flawless experience. Ultimately, that won’t replace actual personal touch, but at least now our friends have no excuse not to watch some cheesy American sitcoms from the 90s with us.
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